Menna looking majestic

Menna imparts her wisdom with her background in Under1Roof and Turath, asking us to never justify our own existence, and never second-guess whether or not we deserve to be in Columbia. 

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Menna Elsayed, Columbia College, Sociology Major, French & Francophone Studies Concentrator. I grew up in the Bronx, NY and Cairo, Egypt, but home is Brooklyn, NY for now.

Claim to fame: While I wish it were that I’m Queen of Tetris, it’s probably that I’m the former Turath president (non-dictator, by the way!) who got a non-partisan cultural club to take a moral stance by publicly supporting CUAD’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. Also, I might have been your Under1Roof facilitator.

Where are you going? Home to my parents’ place in Brooklyn.

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2021?

1) You really don’t need to take 5 or more classes every semester and you really don’t need to exceed the minimum number of credits to graduate. I’ve personally learned just as much–if not more–from conversations, panels, teach-ins, and performances, as from classes and academic texts. Some of the highlights of my college experience have been talking to students in different departments and hearing people talk about their experiences and work at events. Seriously, events on campus and around the city are awesome! They’re also a great way to meet and stay connected with people.

2) You get ahead by getting started. A lot of things we do may feel too huge and overwhelming to work on. I’m still learning how to do this, but it helps to break large tasks down into manageable steps and to start small. For a paper, maybe read the course syllabus to identify interesting themes. Set a timer and write down a few keywords related to your research interests. See what books and articles come up when you type them into CLIO. Learn how to [non-sexually] navigate the stacks and order what’s not there from Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan a few days before you need them. CTRL+F or look through the book index for your keywords and read those pages first. You can look through these texts’ bibliographies for more sources. If a text is obscure, don’t automatically think you’re stupid. Some people just don’t express their ideas accessibly in writing. You can talk about the text with a peer or professor, read a book review of it to gather the main ideas, or drop it and move on. You can start formatting your own bibliography or pulling out quotes from one text at a time. Then you can shift things around to form an outline and decide what argument the information you have is shaping. Give yourself your own deadlines to stop researching, to stop writing out a particular section, to start editing, etc. Or come up with your own routine. Just remember to take things one step at a time so that tasks can feel doable.

3) Please do not for a second doubt that you deserve to be here. Especially if you complain a lot about Columbia and have been called ungrateful for it. Especially if you’re on financial aid and feel like someone who works harder or does more than you should’ve been given the opportunity instead. I’ve been there and it hurts. You made it here, so try your best to make the most out of it. Be kind to yourself when doing that is hard, and be mindful of the words you choose when you think about yourself and tell your story. Talk about how to use your power and resources responsibly. If you still feel like you don’t belong here, it helps to be generous with what you know.

That said, we’re not better than anyone else just because we go here.

“Back in my day…” We somehow expressed ourselves fine without referencing DJ Khaled quotes, Joanne the Scammer, Kermit memes, that one Mr. Krabs meme, and that one blinking white guy gif. Ferris only had that one spiral staircase on the side. Laundry wasn’t free. CU Mealshare wasn’t around (shoutout to FLIP, which also wasn’t around back in my day). Toni Morrison wasn’t on the Lit Hum syllabus (shoutout to the Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board). Columbia was still [playing itself by] investing in private prisons (shoutout to Columbia Prison Divest). The Office of the University Chaplain did not have a Religious Life Advisor for Muslim students. Oh, wait…

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: Nah. Nobody owes anyone a justification for their existence.

What was your favorite class at Columbia? Professor Elizabeth Ouyang’s Post-9/11 Immigration Policies for the receipts.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? TBD. I learned from Under1Roof that it’s important to speak from personal experience, so I’ll just have to get back to you on that one.

One thing to do before graduating: Get called out for something (and you will) and actually listen. Learn to apologize beyond just saying “I’m sorry.” Articulate what your mistake was and how it impacted others. Seriously think and talk about the ways you can be held accountable and avoid repeating the harm you caused. Make your best effort to humbly and respectfully put those thoughts and words into action.

Any regrets? I wish I spoke up more in various contexts, but I’ve been working on it.

Photo via Menna Elsayed